The Coming Kleptocracy

A kleptocracy (“rule by thieves”) is a type of authoritarian government in which a small ruling cabal uses the power of the state to enrich itself at the expense of everyone else. They have a strong flavor of nepotism, and the ruling elite often blur the line between business and government. Moreover, they often come into […]

Continue reading →

The Abnormal Presidency

The effort to make Donald Trump seem normal is to be expected. American politics works on a script most of the time, with very few surprises. We are all used to the system working as it is supposed to, with people of generally good faith respecting the institutions they comprise. Sometimes, this falls apart, like […]

Continue reading →

This Is Not Normal

About the nicest thing you can say about President Trump’s incoming administration is that it is without precedent. But there is another way of looking at it: it is not normal. Normal, you might argue, is a bad thing when people are hurting. In fact, there is enough polling about why people voted for Trump […]

Continue reading →

The Most Pressing Cybersecurity Issue

At least some measure of blame for why there is currently a proto-fascist on his way to the White House is that the emails of the Democratic National Committee (and several key advisors to Hillary Clinton) were hacked by a group linked to the Russian government. These hacks took the form of spearphishing, which is […]

Continue reading →

How (Not) to Regulate the Internet

In 2012, famous computer security expert Bruce Schneier worried about the rise of what he called “security feudalism.” This is the process by which users place their trust in a given vendor to safeguard their data and their devices — whether through automatic updates, automatic backups, required two-factor authentication, and so on. Echoing the old […]

Continue reading →

Jurisdiction in Space Is a Hard Problem

The Federal Aviation Administration has just granted permission (pdf) to Moon Express to send its first lander to the Lunar in 2018. It’s a big move: the first time a privately owned company has established concrete plans to send a commercial mission beyond Earth’s immediate vicinity, and it will most likely be the first attempt to commercially […]

Continue reading →

Space Colonies Are Cool. And Economically Impossible.

At the Re:Code conference this week, Amazon CEO and rocketship manufacturer Jeff Bezos made some bold claims about going into space. “We will settle Mars,” he told the audience. “And we should, because it’s cool.” Mars colonies are cool if you don’t think about them very much. But colonization never happens simply because it is […]

Continue reading →

What Do “Values” Even Mean to an Artificial Intelligence?

Over at Future Tense, Adam Elkus poses a very interesting question I’ve covered here before: Which brings us back to Russell’s optimistic assumptions that computer scientists can sidestep these social questions through superior algorithms and engineering efforts. Russell is an engineer, not a humanities scholar. When he talks about “tradeoffs” and “value functions,” he assumes […]

Continue reading →

Vaporware to the Stars

A Russian billionaire has decided to send a bunch of iPhones to Alpha Centauri. If it all worked out — a cosmically big “if” that would occur decades and perhaps $10 billion from now — a rocket would deliver a “mother ship” carrying a thousand or so small probes to space. Once in orbit, the […]

Continue reading →

Why Would You Want to Live in an Orbital Habitat?

This post is part of an on-going series. See the other posts here. There is a great post over at SF Signal by author Rob Boffard, about the feasibility of constructing a large-scale permanent habitat in orbit over Earth. It’s a neat thought experiment: Getting stuff into space, and keeping it there, is hideously expensive. Even something […]

Continue reading →